Building: 2012 and 2013

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Our first event outside of East Africa, the London Olympics Qualification Tournament in Cairo, Egypt!

Expanding the Sport – One thing I realized immediately was that we had to expand the sport of Taekwondo in Rwanda as quickly as possible.  We had too few athletes to make any kind of impact in international competitions and all in Rwanda didn’t even know the sport existed.  With that in mind, we encouraged each person, that as soon as they achieved a black belt, they should begin a club.  This later developed into our one adult master per club policy for expansion.  Before we realized the impact, we found ourselves having more than twenty clubs of Taekwondo and around four hundred athletes.  The previous year we had only forty athletes and three clubs.

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New Masters to train!

 

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Demonstrations of the sport assisted its popularity
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After every demonstration the children, boys and girls, gathered for their first lesson!

Buying and Making tools – At this time Taekwondo had just undergone a successful transition from being manually scored to electronic scoring making it a more fair and less subjective competition.  The problem was that the systems cost was on average $9000 of equipment for one mat.  A typical tournament needs at least three mats worth of equipment.  World Taekwondo, our new partner, had an annual development fund that you could request assistance for equipment.  We were able to use this for a few years and amassed about $40,000 worth of electronic scoring equipment.  This made Rwanda the first country in Central, Eastern, and Southern Zones of Africa to possess the system.  It also put Rwanda in a leading role for hosting the highest levels of competitions from among those countries.  Additionally, Rwanda has a big push for self – reliance as a nation.  Out of this we began creating and manufacturing our own equipment specific to Taekwondo such as uniforms and targets.

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Ready to fight for his country, future coach Alan Bagire at his first World Championships.
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In her first German Open, Zura Mushambokazi wins her first match against Germany.

Coaching the Sport – I was all we had.  At this point, I had to administrate the sport, fund the sport, work to expand the sport and coach the sport.  Out of this, though, I was able to bring a different perspective to the coaching.  As I had been a runner and cyclist and had also studied exercise physiology at the master’s level, I analyzed the sport and realized it was like racing three 800 meter races back to back with a one minute break in between.  Out of this we then took traditional activities in Taekwondo training and modified them to achieve results more like training for running the mile or two mile.  I loved this part.  I also loved the immediate impact on our athletes as they won much more easily and experienced less fatigue while competing.  I dearly loved getting to pray and study with the team daily and we really grew together in the sport, the art and life.

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Team Rwanda Taekwondo ready for its first big trip to Europe

Internationals Near and Far – From my experiences as an athlete, I realized that Africa, at that time, did not have enough high level events to prepare our athletes for winning on the international or world level.  Out of this came initiatives to send our athletes abroad to compete in Europe (German and Dutch Opens) as well as to begin hosting our own international events here in Rwanda.  I was aided by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, as they desired to sponsor an annual event honoring their Ambassador and their history of Taekwondo.  Our first event attracted five nations.  We added to this the annual event of the Gorilla Open which also attracted several nations to Rwanda.  Rwanda’s athletes won handily and they established themselves as the country to beat in Taekwondo for this part of Africa.  As well Rwanda was able to send two athletes to the qualification event for the London 2012 Olympics.  Sadly, we didn’t qualify, but our vision and goals expanded.  Our big event during that time was the World Championships of 2013.  This event was a real stretch for us as we sought to send seven athletes and it was the first time for the government of Rwanda to step up and assist with the cost of the flights.  It was a good thing they did, too, because for the team and myself it averaged more than $3000 per person and forty hours of travel to get from Kigali, Rwanda to Puebla, Mexico!  We performed well and our team was received wonderfully as superstars by the Mexican people.

Leveling Up – We now had some credible athletes ready to retire from international levels of competing and they had been identified as ready to take over roles that I was currently fulfilling, namely coaching and administrating.  This was timely as after I had presented a seminar to all of Rwanda’s sport federations on best sport practices, I was asked to become the CEO of Olympics for Rwanda.  During that same month, I received an invitation from the President of World Taekwondo Africa to attend the biannual general assembly on behalf of Rwanda and while there I was informed that I had been chosen to sit on the executive council for the continent of Africa.  These were two shocking and surprising changes for myself as a missionary and for Rwanda’s sports.  I interpreted these changes, though, as opportunities from God and we sought to make the best of it all.

It reminded me of John 3:8 where Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Truly, I was being blown around, and didn’t have much of a clue where I was coming from or going!

 

 

 

Embracing: 2010 and 2011

Being recognized –

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First International Event in Mombasa, Kenya pictured along with Team Uganda

The first Taekwondo Master (black-belt) Dan certificates arrived from Korea and the Kukkiwon (agency overseeing accreditation for Taekwondo) in November of 2010.  It was a great moment for Rwanda and a great step in our journey.  Until this point, all that had been done with Taekwondo in Rwanda had been on a very small scale.  In fact, if I look back now, this was the moment when the vision for Taekwondo turned from something simple into something very complex and far reaching.

I’ve often thought about that point when I could have just worked and focused on a single club of Taekwondo.  In the more difficult times, especially the expensive ones, I find myself wishing that I had.  In reality, though, God, who knows me better than I know myself, knew that I just wouldn’t be able to do that.  It was the “all in” moment where the dream of impacting Rwanda through the sport of Taekwondo began to emerge.

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Participation in All Africa Games 2011 Maputo, Mozambique

I had been advised to meet with KOICA (the Republic of Korea’s International Aid Agency).  I had no idea where they were in Rwanda, but on our first Boy Scout camp out, I just happened to be wearing a Korea Tiger’s soccer shirt, and the head of KOICA was walking out of an office.  In that moment the Republic of Korea entered mine and Rwanda Taekwondo’s lives.  At that time also, we received recognition from the Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee.

2011 held many incredible firsts: our first national championships, first international events (there were three), first international medals, first All Africa Games, and our entry into World Taekwondo as a national federation.

Bear with me as I relate that experience:

It was March of 2011 and Rwanda Taekwondo had been invited to join World Taekwondo (the overseeing body for the sport).  Travel would be to Eastern Kenya with our small team for an event and then on to South Korea for the World Championships and the General Assembly where we would become members of the then 187 member nations.  The trip was going to cost about $7000 and in truth we really didn’t have it.  On top of that, we were scheduled to take our family back to Togo that summer and I knew it would cost around $10,000.  So, here I was about to use $7,000 for some crazy trip to South Korea?  I kept thinking as I discussed this with my wife that there would be push-back from her or from others, but everyone just kept giving me the go-ahead.  So, I did.

I packed up our small team and we all struck out for Mombasa, Kenya.  I even road the famous train called the Iron Snake from Nairobi to Mombasa, an experience in and of itself.  We learned so much as a team, won a match, and even got a little trophy (I think for furthest traveled).  While there, though, I was concerned about the money and found myself kneeling in the hotel room, asking for God’s affirmation for this trip through somehow supplying the money needed.  In the middle of the tournament, I received a message.  A church had given an unsolicited gift to our work of, wait for it $16,800.  The exact amount needed to cover both trips!  Affirmation had come.

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Myself with now World Taekwondo Secretary General and my dearest of friends Hoss Rafaty
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Myself with the President of Iran Taekwondo, two great masters, and World Taekwondo SG

Two days later, I arrived in Seoul, South Korea.  I traveled on to the city hosting the event and waited in my hotel, wondering what next, as I still had three days until the General Assembly.   There I would stand up when Rwanda’s name was announced and then sit right back down.  That would be it.  It seemed so little reward after such a great cost to come.  So, I knelt in the room and prayed.  I was prompted to make my way to the hotel for registration and to get my credentials.  As I waited in the lobby I was prompted, yet again, to introduce myself to a gentleman sitting across from me.  At first, I hesitated, but eventually, I got up and made my way over.  As I presented myself to the gentleman, he became really excited and informed me that he was the head of the expansion committee and they had been trying to initiate the federation in Rwanda for more than five years, unsuccessfully.  Here I was and had done it for them!  Within 36 hours, I had met with the Executive Committee for the world, had been given VIP credentials for the event and dinners, and even began having meetings with vendors.  The rest of the week was spent meeting with the world’s best coaches and directors of all the top programs.  It was a PhD in sport management particular to Taekwondo, compressed into one week.

I see, now, in retrospect, that it had all been by God and for God, for Rwanda.

I am still shocked at the telling of it.

Ephesians 4:20-21    Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Part 4 Embracing – Testing the first masters

DSC_0826With the help of the Uganda Taekwondo Federation and Master Lee (the founder of Uganda Taekwondo); in March of 2010 we tested our first masters of Taekwondo in Rwanda.  We had trained them for seven months after they had trained on their own for four years.  It was more a filling of gaps and an updating of techniques that was needed.


Seven of the original trainees were ready, more than ready actually.  They had waited since 2005, when a master from the Republic of Korea had arrived and spent six months training whoever was willing in the art of Taekwondo.  After he departed, they continued on their own training daily and holding onto Taekwondo as a source of hope for themselves.

You see, each of them, had been affected deeply by the genocide of 1994.  For example, the future president of the federation who later became a neurosurgeon, was sustained and overcame much of his grief through practicing Taekwondo.  In his story, his family had gathered at their home on the fourth day after the genocide had begun.  His neighbor, if I remember correctly, was the Secretary of Education and had put this then teenager’s family on a list to be killed.  On that day, the killers entered the compound and killed all they could find.  This young man, with great heroism hid three of his siblings in the attic.  Every day for the next ninety – five days, until the genocide was stopped, he would leave the house, walk past the bodies of his family and search for food in order to sustain his young siblings.  God had used Taekwondo in those years afterwards to help him face his trauma and build confidence as well as come to trust in other people.

We must realize that the story of Taekwondo in Rwanda and sport development here was much greater than any initiative of mine, for it was intertwined with the stories of all these future masters as well as that of Rwanda.

 

Witnessing the joy for these young men as they took off their red belts and put on black belts instead is something I will never forget.  They had overcome such incredible obstacles to arrive at this point.  They had overcome a history, oh too recent, of prejudice to the point of genocide, and now welcomed all Rwandans to train and be in this new family.

I never could have imagined, just seven years later, as I write this blog, what God would do with them to not only bring hope to their lives but as well to many more in the nation of Rwanda.

Part 4 Embracing – A visit to Uganda

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After the first two training sessions in Kigali in September of 2009, the group of twenty trainees, asked me to start a federation for Taekwondo in Rwanda.  I quickly informed them that I had no idea how to do that.  They replied that Uganda had a federation and that maybe I should go and speak with them.

So, on the 30th of October, 2009, after locating the federation training center in Kampala, Uganda via the Web, I boarded a bus.  It probably wasn’t that simple and if I had written this eight years ago, I am sure that a very colorful commentary of this journey could be given.  Now it is just a blur.  I think, in looking back, I was hoping for someone on my team or maybe my wife to pull the plug.  It seemed very ludicrous to board a bus, barely knowing where you are going, into an unfamiliar country, to meet with people who not only don’t know you but that don’t even know you are coming.  Nevertheless, I went.

After a restless night in a hotel, that I promptly checked out of the next day (a different blog – maybe a how not to travel in Africa post), I took a long walk in search of the training center for Uganda Taekwondo.  I found it and happened to be the second one in the gym that day.  I was a bit early and the other person there was a professional kick boxer.  He didn’t think too much about me being there, so I dressed out in my uniform and waited and waited and waited.  I do wonder often if that was why God brought me to Africa, to teach me to wait.  After about two hours some children showed up along with four Taekwondo masters, Peter Kamau, Judith Aujo, Andrew Mugisha, and Badru.  They had just returned from the world championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I was in awe.  They welcomed me and, to expedite matters, asked why I was there.  I quickly caught them up and informed them that I came so they could teach me how to start a national Taekwondo federation.  As well, I asked if they would let me work out with them, as I was suspicious that the Taekwondo I had learned in Togo might not be of the highest quality and up to world standards.  They had me warm up with the kiddos and I was admittedly ashamed of the quality of my kicks; and then I worked with Peter Kamau for four hours (yes, four hours) on all the forms of Taekwondo!  We had a meal together in the afternoon and they shared with me all they had known about the processes of a national federation, including their statutes.

My mind was blown.  It was classic African hospitality.  Knowing me not, they trained me, hosted me, fed me, befriended me, and educated me.  It became reciprocal as I began having them come to Rwanda and help me to train our athletes.  In many ways, I have since found out that this is inherent to the Taekwondo culture.  Yet, looking back, I also realize that this was extreme and unique.   The only way, I can explain it, is that God made them favorable towards me, not for me, mind you, but for Rwanda.  I had not taken this trip on my own behalf and it was the first of many sacrifices I was to make in this sport development for discipleship journey.  Yet, God affirming the journey by numerous unmerited graces, or as I like to put it, favor; has been and continues to be a constant that prompts me to take that next step of faith into the unknown.

Isaiah 30:21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Well, all of this was very unknown, but it was with a lot of encouragement and now I had help from those I find myself eternally grateful to: my friends Peter, Judith, Andrew and Badru.  Looking back, I also realize that all we have done in Rwanda could not have occurred had they not taken me in.

Hebrews 13:2  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers …

I didn’t want to do this (expanding the story)

The title may not fit any more, as by the time I really launched the work of sport development for spiritual impact in Rwanda, I had changed my mind and not only did I want to do it but I was quite enjoying it!

The impetus for this series is to first and foremost, give glory to God for finding me usable in Rwanda and doing something unique with me.  The second, is that I love process, analysis, structure, and strategy.  For these reasons I wanted to take you on my unique journey into this world of sport development.  This will give us opportunity then to delve into the day to day as well as consider application of Rwanda’s story in sport to other potential efforts.

Because of that, now what began as a three part series of:  Becoming, Being, and Launching, is now expanding to include: Embracing, Building, Developing and Sustaining.

One may coach a sport over the course of a lifetime.  One may be a passionate follower of sport.  One may work in sport as a career administrator or manager.  One may also use sport as a talking point to illustrate personal character development or even apply to business strategies or social unity.  I find myself extremely blessed, though, as I am trying my best to illustrate through this blog.  My journey has now allowed me to experience the participation, teaching, coaching, training, administrating, structuring, and expanding of a sport for an entire nation that now has ramification on sport development for the region and continent of Africa as well.

I would love to say that it is because I am just so brilliant and capable.  If you believe that then please reread the first three parts of this series and remember:

‘I didn’t want to do this!”

I have always found Luke 17:7-10 as a very strong reminder when I begin to take credit for the amazing things God is doing in my life.  Jesus gives the illustration: “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at the table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”

I didn’t want to do this … Part 3b – Launching

So, as it was, because I just couldn’t conceive, as a missionary, giving Rwanda what it wanted, Taekwondo, for nine months I absolutely rejected the idea.  I kept pushing the other projects of rocket stoves and biomass charcoal.  

Sometimes we need additional voices. So, God, in His mercy kept prodding me.  Two particular events occurred to push me over the edge to “go for it”.

The first was in September of 2009 when after being cajoled by at least five people, I finally agreed to meet with those interested in Taekwondo and saw they had the skills to actually be masters of the art. Twenty of them gathered and they were great.  As well, even now, I remember how they began to share with me, that as a small group they had trained together for several years and the sport had helped them overcome many of the challenges they faced after the genocide.  

The second occurred the following February.  I had since agreed to dabble in the idea of Taekwondo but was not fully committed as the other projects seemed more plausible and more deeply impacting.  I had gone to Kenya and Uganda and while there had made time to train with a Taekwondo master, Peter Kamau.  He knew my history as a runner and if you know much about sport physiology, running and Taekwondo can be very incompatible as running can really decrease flexibility.  As we trained together, he asked, “Martin, why are your kicks so bad?  Have you been running again?” I answered that I had, yes, been running a little (in truth I had been toying with the idea and treating with God, that if it be sport, then why not the sport I was best at, i.e. running).  In reality, I had trained over one hundred miles the previous week driven by pride and human intellect for sure.   Peter then stated, oh so very boldly, “Listen, running is not what God has given you to do!  It is Taekwondo that he has given you to give to Rwanda!”  I considered this for a couple of weeks, but kept running hard daily and trying to get “in” with the national athletics federation.  Promptly, I was injured in my right heel, and couldn’t run a step; but irony set in, when I realized, even with the injury, I could do all the Taekwondo I wanted!  

Wow, am I hard headed or what?  Oh, for the day, when God doesn’t have to use a plank of wood across my head to get me to listen!

So, we gathered them, began training them in ernest, and waited on God to see what would happen next.

Isaiah 55:8,9.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I didn’t want to do this Part 3a – Launching

It was actually not an easy transition from Togo to Rwanda.  Rwanda, even though it had undergone such tragic events between 1959 and 1994, was a much easier place to live than Togo.  It was immaculately clean, the people were, for the most part, very reserved and soft spoken and the country itself is one of the most naturally beautiful countries that I have ever seen.  “So, what made it difficult?”, you may ask.  It was that our work was needing a complete overhaul.  In Togo, it was very straightforward.  You go to a new village that had never heard the gospel.  You asked if you could teach about Jesus.  If they agreed you then began teaching and with time a church was born and then … It was traditional missions, only with the challenges of Southern Togo, which were many.

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Typical village in Southern Togo (photo credit to Radford University)

Rwanda

Rwandan landscape

Rwanda was a different story.  It had a very complicated history.  It was one that also included great fault and guilt on the traditional church and missions for not only aiding colonialists to set up and grow an ethnicity division campaign but, also, during the genocide many churches actually assisted the killers by inviting in those being hunted under the guise of protecting them only to then call in the perpetrators to murder them in the churches themselves.  Like, I said, complicated and tragic.  We were told that we would need to prove social and economic benefit to Rwanda before being allowed to obtain long term visas.  In doing so, it also necessitated us forming an NGO (non-government organization or as we would say a non-profit organization) instead of coming in as a church group.  We were left scratching our heads and then scrambling to figure out what each of us had to offer Rwanda, that Rwanda itself would value.

The thing is, it fit as a different model of missions that we were actually shown the year before at a conference that presented a “Church Planting Movement” model.  It had been very effective in India and in other nations that stood opposed to traditional church planting methods.  Oddly, even though in the early 1990’s Rwanda had been considered the most Christian nation in Africa, the post genocide Rwanda definitely seemed “fed up” with church.  As well, in this model you focus on relationships through service that is valued and in those relationships you are provided the opportunity to initiate studies that are led by others and not yourself and have all the “DNA” of what church should be but often falls short of.

Still we were left with the perplexing question of: ‘What do we have to give?’.  I chose to build rocket stoves initially.  They are these great cooking stoves that cook in half the time and use half the fuel.  We could get really bogged down in the science of it, but I just knew everyone in Rwanda would want one!  They didn’t.  Their list of complaints was long and I found out that Rwandans don’t change traditional things very quickly.  I then jumped on the environmental and economic opportunity bandwagon and quickly developed a press for making biomass charcoal.  It provided businesses, utilized waste wood and field cuttings, and was a low cost startup.  It was a bust.  Turns out they didn’t want to change their cooking fuel either.

The problem with all of this is, that God had already told me what I would do that Rwandans wanted, but my issue was that it just didn’t make sense, and I was a bit terrified that all our supporters would call it quits when they found out.  In my sons’ first week of school they came home incredibly excited to tell me that there was a Taekwondo club at their school.  I decided to visit.  In visiting, I observed that my 13 year old son was a better instructor than this young man.  I asked him for his credentials and he asked me for mine promptly as he didn’t have any.  After inspection and his agreement for me to teach him how to teach he then asked me if I would be the grand master for Rwanda and start a federation here as that is what the people really wanted.  I laughed and said, “No way!”

John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Oops.

Too many words!  Story to be continued in next post …. 3b – Launching